Surrounded by the green mountains and the bright blue skies of Antioquia, the 984-foot (300-meter) Puente de Occidente, or the Bridge of the West, spans a vast river that once divided the region and tells a story of ingenuity, creativity and the strength of the human spirit.
The Cauca River divides the area and impedes access to other parts of the country, long isolating the inhabitants of the area. In the late 1800s, the need for a bridge was obvious, and the suspension bridge that was built over the river is considered one of the most important civil engineering projects in America at the time it was built.
Colombian José María Villa studied engineering in the United States and later participated in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the early 1880s, he returned to Colombia and decided to take on the task of building a series of bridges. One of those was the Bridge of the West. Construction started in 1887 and lasted five years.
The problems Villa faced and the creative ways he solved them show the extraordinary vision of the engineer. With limited technical resources and many challenges due to the mountainous terrain, he came up with a design that overcame all the difficulties.
Colombia lists the bridge on its UNESCO World Heritage tentative list due to the value of Villa’s design, which was one of the most advanced projects in Latin America at the time, combining sound construction with a particular beauty. Originally one of the longest suspension bridges in South America, it played a key role in the development of the region and the country.
The Bridge of the West connects the towns of Olaya and Santa Fe de Antioquia, east and west of the Cauca River, respectively.